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The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth
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The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  385 ratings  ·  58 reviews
In The First Christmas, two of today's top Jesus scholars, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, join forces to show how history has biased our reading of the nativity story as it appears in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. As they did for Easter in their previous book, The Last Week, here they explore the beginning of the life of Christ, peeling away the sentimentalism ...more
ebook, 272 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published October 9th 2007)
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(showing 1-30 of 688)
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Marfita
They're trying too hard. The parallels with the contemporary material written about Caesar Augustus were very interesting. Augustus was called all the same epithets: son of god, savior (for having ended the civil war), etc. [A friend also keyed me into Julius's adoption of then Octavian rewrote the family tree, which takes the tarnish off of the genealogy of Jesus - if Joseph adopts him, he gets Joseph's family tree. Fine, I'm all down wid dat.]
Although they go in depth defining some terms (euan
...more
Ivonne Rovira
The Sunday School class at Highland Presbyterian Church is reading this book, and my biggest question is, For whom is this book intended? Marcus J. Borg, a New Testament scholar and a professor emeritus from Oregon State University, and John Dominic Crossan, another New Testament scholar who co-chaired the Jesus Seminar, which looked into the historical Jesus, authored the book, which led me to have, perhaps, too high hopes for the book. The material seems a bit -- how can I phrase this tactfull ...more
Stephanie
Thanks to Huston Smith for the phrase "fact fundamentalism," which describes the post-Enlightenment, empirical worldview that if something isn't factually true, then it isn't true at all. We see fact fundamentalists in conservative Christianity and in atheism. Both camps believe a story is true only if it is factual.

What we've lost is the more-than-literal meaning, which was once assumed, is not bound to facts, and is also truth.

Apply this to the nativity stories and our choice is not between f
...more
Paul
This one isn't as interesting as the pair's previous book on Easter, The Last Week, but that is mostly due to the source material - two of the gospels don't cover the nativity at all and the other two (which contain two rather different accounts) don't spend all that much time on it. But it's still worth a read if one wants to look at the subject from their usual Progressive Christian perspective - viewing the text as parabolic narrative, close attention to context and how the audience at the ti ...more
mahatma
ini buku memang ditujukan untuk kaum awam.
banyak keterangan yang direntang-rentang, demikian pula istilah-istilah asing dan etimologinya perlu diterangkan lagi. mungkin lebay, tapi ya memang itu diperlukan untuk jenis audiens pembacanya yang umum tadi.
saya memang penggemar tulisan kedua orang ini. yang satu mantan imam dan satunya teolog protestan. keduanya berada dalam satu kubu dalam melakukan studi tentang "the historical jesus".
buku ini salah satu dari kolaborasi mereka berdua, tentang kisah
...more
Matt
Dec 20, 2008 Matt rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
This book is a fine introduction to the basic theology of Christmas. Treating the birth narratives in the gospels as myth rather than fact - which is rather obviously the case - Borg and Crossan ask us to consider what theological truth lies behind these powerful metaphorical narratives.
Of particular interest is the fact that Borg and Crossan explain in great detail the deliberate contrast between Jesus and his kingdom of peace through justice - and Caesar and his kingdom of peace through conque
...more
Steven Williams
This may be a weird book for an atheist to read. But despite my beliefs, I am quite interested in religious ideas. Having read the authors' The First Paul, which I found to be quite intriguing, a very interesting take on Paul's theology, I was curious how they would approach the birth stories of Jesus. They definitely didn't disappoint. I found them to be quite honest about the historical situation. Their main point was that the stories were to be read as parables. The important thing was to inv ...more
Janet Mahlum
I bought this book as a Kindle book. Had I seen it in a bookstore and been able to look through the entire book, I would not have bought it. I thought it might be a useful guide for an Advent study. The first bit might be, the part I was allowed to view on Amazon. However, it quickly moved from a Bible study to a historical study. Some parts of the book are good and useful, hence the two-star rating rather than a one-star. However, the book went places I'm not sure I want to go and is full of ha ...more
Jonna
The message here is the same as Borg's message always is: we may need to re-interpret what scriptures mean for us today, but first we have to understand what they meant to the people who wrote them. What were their concerns, their fears, their problems, the points they were trying to make, and why?

In that context, Borg, as always, does a masterful job of distilling complex, detailed literary-historical-archaeological scholarship into readable materials that any lay person can understand.

By contr
...more
Trevor
“[S:]tories of Jesus’ birth were not of major importance to earliest Christianity. Mark wrote a gospel without referring to Jesus’ birth, as John later did. Though the end of Jesus’ life – his crucifixion and resurrection – are utterly central to Paul, he say nothing about how his life began.

…[T:]he reason that references to a special birth do not appear in the earliest Christian writings is either because the stories did not yet exist or because they were still in the process of formation” (The
...more
Lee Harmon
Borg and Crossan collaborate again, this time to discuss the beginning of the Gospel story. I think this is a great partnership, as Borg softens and adds richness to Crossan's scholarship. The two play off each others' strengths. Nevertheless, I don't think this is their best effort; I enjoyed both The Last Week and The First Paul a bit more.

The Christmas Story, formed by splicing together two of the Bible's birth narratives, is a story of joy. (We all rightfully eschew the Bible's third birth s
...more
Alicia
This was a very interesting book to read at Christmas time. I'm really glad I read most of it before the Christmas season started. It certainly has made church interesting these last few weeks. Basically, this book starts off with the Christmas story according to Matthew and then the Christmas story according to Luke. The authors compare and contrast how the two stories are different and how they are the same. It is amazing how different the two stories are and how the church has traditionally w ...more
Rebecca
May 02, 2008 Rebecca rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: liberal & progressive Christians
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan successfully argue that the discrepancies found between Luke and Matthew's Christmas stories are only problematic should one chose to take the biblical narratives literally rather than allegorically. Through a careful analysis of language and symbolic representation, Borg and Crossan reveal how Matthew and Luke both see Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of God's promise to Israel, but communicate this message via different genealogies and troping of the Old Te ...more
Lincoln Dall
This book is part of the historical Jesus movement, which is receiving quite a backlash right now in many academic Christian circles and seminaries. As a priest, in my humble opinion, there is a lot to be gained from these books if read in a balanced view of Christianity and biblical scholarship. If the historical Jesus movement is all that one reads, it is certainly a skewed and one-sided view of the scholarship that is out there. My homiletics professor from seminary recommended these books by ...more
Bob Oliver
Jan 27, 2014 Bob Oliver rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bob by: Gap Group
I read this for a book group at church. I always enjoy Borg and Crossan and this book was right in line with what I know of their writing. Since I have read many of their books and seen them speak, much of the ideas in the book were not new to me, but I did pick up a few ideas that were new to me about the Christmas story and the differences of how it was thought about in Jesus' time and throughout time up to the present day.
Nikki
Since this was not the first book I had read by Borg and Crossan, I was not particularly surprised by their points and point of view. Anyone looking for Biblical literalism would be shocked and dismayed by this book; likewise, anyone who looks for historical inaccuracy in the Bible as proof of its not being "true" will also be disappointed. Crossan especially, and also Borg, believe very strongly in a Jesus whose ministry was specifically to the poor and marginalized. This Jesus was, of course, ...more
Geoff Glenister
Borg and Crossan have truly proven to be a dynamic duo. In this work studying the nativity stories, they have paid careful attention to details as they provide the context of the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke - and the rewards are palpable. Through understanding the context of these stories, the meaning becomes clear.
Joe
This was somewhat slow going, if not tedious, for me—or at least it seemed so—because they do go into plenty of detail to make their case. They see the Matthew & Luke stories of conception & birth as parable in nature and as overtures stating the theme for the rest of the gospels. As might be suspected by one who has read any of their work, they do offer some helpful insights such as alternatives to fundamentalist understandings of the “prediction-fulfillment formulas.” My "star" rating ...more
Pamela
Christmas narratives are "parabolic overtures" to the gospels of Matthew and Luke: parables that anticipate the themes of the books themselves. Parables defined as narratives that are never intended to be understood as historical facts, but convey profound truth. Matthew's birth story establishes Jesus as a new Moses; Luke's emphasizes the roles of women, the condition of the marginalized, and the power of the Holy Spirit. NT is to OT as Aeneid is to Homeric poems. Titles bestowed on Jesus (Lord ...more
Don
Borg is a master at putting the New Testament in its historical context, which opens it up to new layers of meaning. This may not be his best book but it is still very good and enlightening.
James Flerlage
Borg/Crossan's interpretation of "historical fiction" aligns with many of my own views, particularly the quotations on page 35: "When people ask about a story, 'Is that historical?' they mean, 'Did that happen? Is that factual?' But this is not what we mean. Rather, a historical approach to these stories means setting these ancient parables in their first century context. Just as the parables of Jesus become powerfully meaningful in their first-century context, so also do early Christian stories ...more
Katie
Jun 17, 2008 Katie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: General reader interested in Christianity
Shelves: religion
This is an informative book for the general reader. It gives an overview of the Christmas story from the Gospels that contain one (Matthew and Luke), retells them, and interprets the coming of Jesus in several consistent ways.

I did not find it inspiring, as I did Borg's earlier work (such as "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time"), and it did not add much to what he has written before. (I haven't read Crossan's work.) The style is both less challenging and less interesting than in some of his
...more
Thomas
At some points it gets tough to wade through, but it is an admirable task - unpacking the meaning behind the Christmas stories in the New Testament. Given that most of the stuff in the traditional Christmas story probably never happened (census, trip to Bethlehem, wise men, star, shepherds, etc.), this attempts to understand WHY those stories were told - What is the symbolism and meaning of those stories and how are they relevant today? The authors present the information in a way that they hope ...more
Chanita.Shannon
"Here the Borg and Crossan explore the beginning of the life of Christ, peeling away the sentimentalism that has built up over the last two thousand years around this most well known of all stories to reveal the truth of what the gospels actually say. The authors help us to see this well-known narrative afresh by answering the question, "What do these stories mean?" in the context of both the first century and the twenty-first century. They successfully show that the Christmas story, read in its ...more
John Wood
I suppose to someone interested in theology or Bible study, this would be an interesting book. As someone raised as a Christian in the Catholic church who wanted some clarification of the Christmas story, I found it tedious and confusing. I was surprised to find that the birth of Jesus is only found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The fact that the two accounts differ in so many ways and can't possibly be historically acurate only compounds my confusion. Also I got tired of nitpicking every ...more
Jennifer
This gave me a lot to think about. I liked their blending of text with historical matrix. They summed it up great in the final chapter. Joy to the world!
Deb
Another interesting offering from Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I am one of those who take the Bible seriously, but not literally. I would be interested in the reactions to this book of folks who are encountering these theologians for the first time. I don't think I learned anything brand new, perhaps just stated a little differently. The stories are not diminished in any way. In fact I feel as though the truth of the stories are enriched and enhanced.
Babs
Jan 26, 2013 Babs rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Randy Polo
Recommended to Babs by: ACRL reading list.
Challenging to say the least, but when one becomes sad about the insanity of our modern American Christmas, this book affords a better understanding of "the true meaning of Christmas." The authors look at the meaning and historical context of Christmas-- past, present, and future, in an intellectually meaningful way. A slog, but worth it as the reading will make Christmas tolerable, understandable, and in fact, enjoyable.
Paul Deane
More than a essay on the birth of Jesus. Crossan and Borg look at what and why each of the gospel writers had a different story and the theological implications of those differences.

I had never picked up on the "peace of Rome" through violence vs. the "peace of God" though justice. Crossan and Borg show the richness of an interpretive reading of the Bible vs. the literal reading. For me it made the nativity story come alive.
Ginny Jones
Difficult to follow in some chapters. Interesting ideas for purpose of these biblical stories.
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Borg was born into a Lutheran family of Swedish and Norwegian descent, the youngest of four children. He grew up in the 1940s in North Dakota and attended Concordia College, Moorhead, a small liberal arts school in Moorhead, Minnesota. While at Moorhead he was a columnist for the school paper and held forth as a conservative. After a close reading of the Book of Amos and its overt message of socia ...more
More about Marcus J. Borg...
Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally The Meaning of Jesus The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem

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